Los Angeles Times
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Yakima Canutt was a rough-and-ready bronco rider who became a famed Hollywood stuntman, doubling for John Wayne in dozens of movies and choreographing the chariot race in "Ben Hur."
He was in his teens when he entered his first Wild West show, winning prizes for his riding and roping stunts. He joined the rodeo circuit soon afterward.
Canutt got his nickname in 1914 from a newspaper article that called him "The Cowboy from Yakima," referring to the Washington valley where he grew up. In later life, his friends and professional acquaintances simply called him Yack.
In 1917, he won the World's Champion All-Round Cowboy title at the Pendleton Roundup in Oregon. He had become one of the best saddle and bareback bronc riders on the rodeo circuit, at a time when such contests were between tough range riders, instead of circus performers.
In between rodeo performances, Canutt broke horses for the French in World War I. Late in the war, he joined the U.S. Navy and served briefly aboard a minesweeper.
With the war over in 1919, Canutt quickly regained his world championship cowboy crown, the second of five he earned in his life.
He moved on to Hollywood in the early 1920s and had leading roles in two silent western films, "Romance and Rustlers" and "Ridin' Mad," both released in 1924. His movies were typically fast-paced and action-filled, and Canutt rarely used a double.
Trouble, however, came with the talkies. Canutt, whose voice was once described as like a hummingbird's, didn't come across well on soundtracks. As a result, he soon became a full-time stuntman and occasionally played quiet, angry, villain roles.
As a stuntman, Canutt did the tough stuff for such luminaries as Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Roy Rogers, Randolph Scott and Tex Ritter, as well as Wayne.
His favorite stunt was said to be in John Ford's 1939 epic, "Stagecoach." Playing an attacking Indian, Canutt leapt at full gallop from his own horse to the six-horse team pulling the coach. He then fell between the horses, dragged along the ground, finally lying motionless as the horses and coach sped over him.
In 1966, Canutt was awarded an honorary Oscar, crediting him with helping to create the stuntman profession and with developing safety devices used by stuntmen everywhere.
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